Monday, December 8, 2014

Peaks of Otter Lodge and Sharp Top Trail 
                    Bedford, Virginia

Many of us may live our whole lives without stopping and looking around us to see the beautiful landscapes God has created. My wife and I have been avid campers all our lives. We were introduced to nature by our parents, church; and the Boy Scouts. The Peaks of Otter Lodge is located approximately thirty miles north of the city of Roanoke on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The lodge itself is situated in a valley between Round Top and Sharp Top Mountains. A small lake is located on the southern side of the lodge and all of the lodge rooms have balconies with the lake and Sharp top views. There are hiking trails that have their beginning at or near the lodge. My favorite hike is the hike up Sharp Top Mountain. 

A sign at the beginning of the Sharp Top hike offers some history of the hike and surrounding area.  Sharp Top Mountain attracted Indians some  8,000 years ago the same way the scenery attracts modern day visitors. To reach the top the hiker has two choices, by a bus ride or by hiking the 1.5 mile trail to the top.  In earlier times the mountain was believed to be the highest in Virginia. In honor of George Washington a rock was included as part of the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. Later land surveyors determined there were other mountains taller than Sharp Top. To this day the lodge at the base of Sharp Top Mountain gives visitors a chance to relax in an environment of cool temperatures, recreation and inspiration. As custom in the morning one may take the hike to the top of Sharp Top to see the sunrise over the valley below.

                     Sharp Top sign with the above information at the trail head

                       Picture taken from the lodge looking across the lake to Sharp Top

                                Sharp Top bus that takes riders to the top

                                              Fall leaves along the trail


                                              Fall flowers brighten the path.

           The trail is very rocky and steep and railings are provided for help climbing.

Almost at the top is a large rock outcropping called Buzzard's Roost and further up 
                                                          is Sharp Top.

A trail sign leads the way to Buzzard's Roost and the bus parking lot.

    Buzzard's Roost requires some rock hopping to see magnificent views of the 

More rock steps and hand rails nearer the top

At higher elevations near the top one can see the clouds looming above the trees.

Very near the top there is a sign explaining that weathering of larger rocks have formed boulders-like blocks of Diorite rocks formed by the freezing and thawing of the moisture in the cracks of the rocks.

At the top of the mountain there is a sign next to a small cabin stating that Sharp Top Mountain is 3,875 feet in elevation, and that a rock taken from this mountain was placed in the Washington Monument with the inscription, "From Otter's summit-Virginia's loftiest peak, to crown a monument to Virginia's noblest son."

A small one-room cabin sits on top of the mountain, and no one is allowed to stay in the cabin overnight. The story is told of a group of Boy Scouts who stayed in the cabin during a heavy lightening storm, and a lightening bolt struck the cabin going down the chimney killing one of the scouts. 

At the top there are National Park Service markers with the names of distant mountains. This one is pointing to Thunder Ridge 9 miles due north.

There are steps and terraces at the top built to allow easy viewing of the valley below.

On the very top of Sharp Top Mountain one can see the Peak's otter Lake and lodge below. From here you can retrace your steps back to the trail head.

Psalms 72:3 "The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Dragons Tooth

Dragon's Tooth is the second most popular hike in Southwestern Virginia. It is more physically demanding than nearby McAfee's Knob which is a short distance away. On the day I hiked Dragon's Tooth the trail head parking lot had twenty parked cars, and the parking lot to McAfee's Knob had about 150 cars. Dragon's Tooth is a five mile round trip hike from the trail head parking lot.

As I walked up the path from the parking lot I was greeted by a patch of ripe blackberries.  This area is known for the black bear sightings, and I wondered if I would be seeing any sampling blackberries along the trail.

The trail is well marked by a blue blaze painted approximately six feet from the bottom of tree trunks. Although the trail is well worn from the many hikers who take the challenge to hike Dragon's Tooth, it is well-maintained in an attempt to stop erosion of the soil from occurring.

As you hike along the trail you will cross many low water bridges built to span several of the wet weather drainages at the base of the mountain.

During heavy rainfalls these small wet weather streams can become raging drainage ways that can take large boulders and fallen trees down the mountainside.

A short distance up the trail you will see yellow blaze trail markers leading to the left showing the  beginning of the Boy Scout Trail. This side trail takes you to the Appalachian Trail and another way to climb Dragon's Tooth.

A series of water bars are placed along the trail to direct stormwater across the trail and into the woods, rather than allowing the water to increase its erosive force down the trail. 

Although the water only stays a short time in pools along the wet weather stream you may see some aquatic insects and crayfish enjoying that time.

The trail is steep but manageable by the many switch backs to the top.

Rock steps are constructed where switch backs are not constructed.

I like to try to identify the plant life along the trail. This plant is a young sassafras tree. It is recognizable by its three distinctive leaf shapes. In the winter the sap is stored in the roots for new growth in the spring.  

Many varieties of maple trees are found all along the trail.

The mountain ash has a leaf much like the red maple and it is known for its distinctive green lines running down the tree branch . As I was looking at the different trees I heard a noise as if someone was shuffling through the dry leaves and looked up to see a big black bear and before I could take his picture he was gone.

Poison ivy is known to grow all along the edges of the trail, and the oil from the leaf and stem causes a skin rash. 

If you take the Boy Scout Trail you will pass through an area where pine needles cover the path from a  pine groove.

Before too long you will come to the Appalachian Trail marked with a white blaze. The Dragon's Tooth Trail and The Appalachian Trail become one from here to the top. A map is provided on the post to help make sure you go the right direction.

There are areas where you can stop to view the beautiful 
valley below.

You know you are getting nearer the top of the mountain by the large out croppings of solid rock.

Even though you see large rocks you are still aware of nature's force of erosion by seeing the sand along the trail. The force of wind, water,  freezing, and thawing cause the decay of rocks into sand.

Closer to the top the trail gets very rocky and more dangerous. A sign warns you of the danger in hiking over a steep and rocky trail.

You will walk along narrow ledges and come into contact with loose rocks.

Where there are no trees to mark the path the correct way is marked by white paint on the rocks.

There are areas where there are no easy hand holds and here metal steps are provided.

In other areas where metal hand holds cannot be provided, you are left to rock scramble over these areas.

You know you are at the top when you can turn around and look between the large rock boulders that form the Dragon's teeth and see views of the valley and mountains below.

Once at the top you can make a turn around of about 360 degree view of the valley below.

There is no question in my mind that God created the beauty in all of what we see.
Isaiah 55:12 - You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

No Worry Family and Friends' Fun

Have you ever wished that you could attend a get together with friends and young children without the worry of hearing bad language, alcohol drinking, smoking, or gossiping? 

     This month I attended a father and daughter weekend canoe trip with friends from several local churches. I am a grandfather, and I was invited to participate by my son-in-law and granddaughter.          
     Six fathers and their young daughters, ages nine to eleven, and I floated down the James River headwaters, stopping overnight at a campground and then continuing downstream to a take-out point.  The girls and fathers set up camp and cooked meals. Each canoe contained one father in the back and his daughter in the front. The fathers fished while the daughters paddled along the river. The James River flows fast enough along this section so that it did not take a lot of effort to navigate downstream. Occasionally, some of the girls would jump into the water for a refreshing dip in the river.
     The rapids were easily-navigated whitewater Class I's and II's.  Fathers provided lunch from the coolers carried in their  canoes. Sometimes the canoeist would turn upstream and try to surf the  rapids.
     On Sunday morning we had an informal worship service thanking God for the opportunity to take the trip and the blessing, as well as responsibility, that fathers have in raising their daughters in Christian love and understanding.
    The additional blessing for me was that the trip was free of alcohol, drugs, bad language, swearing, and inappropriate dress. Unlike work family picnics that I have attended in the past, this activity was a breath of fresh air--literally as we enjoyed God's outdoor magnificence, and figuratively, as we enjoyed fellowship that would please our Lord.  Before, I was afraid to attend these type of activities because of what my children might hear or see. What a delight to be free of all of that worry and to be with Christian family and friends.  I thank God that He provides times like this because of His great love and care for us and our spiritual and emotional needs.  He knows us so well.
     Proverbs 22:6 reminds us, "Train up a child in the way he should go," (NIV).  I know that this weekend will remain in the hearts of these girls--having enjoyed fellowship with their earthly fathers, who are training them to draw closer to their heavenly Father, as well.

My Native Ultimate 12 foot Kayak

                         Headwaters of the James River near Roanoke Virginia

Fathers and their daughters paddling along the river

Paddling and fishing along the James River

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Growing Older Along The Trail

I am a  older hiker, and I find it harder physically to continue hiking the trail. My bones ache with every mountain I climb, and I find myself staying in the sleeping bag longer each morning. But I continue to hike because I am inspired by the beautiful mountain views and wonder of God's creation.  I rest often on rocks or fallen trees knowing that there are hundreds of hikers that have passed along this same trail before me, and I think of the thousands of people who are unable to experience what I am experiencing. I recently met an older lady who was able to express the feeling I have when I hike along the trail.  Phyllis V. Brokaw wrote this poem in 2009 and has given me permission to share it with you.

                Out in the Woods with God

Have you ever stood in the midst of the woods
and heard the forest talk;
Have you been all alone as the tree tops swayed
to a music all their own?
Have you seen a bird fly from limb to limb
as she sweetly sang to you?
Have you heard a brook as it flowed o'er the rocks
lend its rhythm in cadence, too?
Did you notice how leaves as they gently fall
form a beautiful carpet for you?

It's a wonderful thing when God's nature provides
an oasis away from life's storms;
Take a day away in the woods someday
when tired and weary and worn.
It's a special gift and an awesome reprieve
out in the woods with Him;
If you stand very still, I am sure that you will
hear the still small voice within;
You'll draw from the silence the peace that you seek
and know you've been touched by the King.

If you'll stand very still in the turmoil of life 
and heed to that voice within;
You'll be led the Spirit in wisdom and grace
in the midst of the chaos and din;
Then you'll find all you need of courage and hope
if you'll travel life's highway with Him.